Omar Z Robles on the Challenges of Photographing Dancers with Film

Omar Z Robles is well known for his dance photography, and he’s taken it a step further recently.

“People nowadays think almost like a tribe about equipment and gear,” says Omar Z Robles about his recent project shot on film. “But in the end they’re just tools to carry your vision.” We’re inclined to agree–in the same way that a painter can create works of art with a variety of brushes, a photographer can do the same. We’ve spoken with Omar about his creative process on Inside the Photographer’s Mind before, and he’s very careful about his overall creation process. While one may think he simply capturing scenes, he’s actively directing–which is what most folks don’t do vs simply capturing. With years of shooting under his belt, this was an interesting mental challenge for Omar; which he obviously succeeded at.

Phoblographer: So what really made you want to try film for the first time when doing serious work? Did it have anything to do with the looks that get from the Fujifilm film simulations?

Omar: Not really, after working with film I can attest that nothing looks like film, but film itself. There’s no film simulations or presets that can really replicate the look and texture of film. Nothing. Especially when talking about the experience itself. As I mentioned in the write up, It all came out of a client’s request. To be 100% honest, I’ve personally been avoiding film for a long time. Mainly because it has become a trend and I usually try to stay away from trends. But I went for essentially it because of my client’s request. It was as I went through the process that I had somewhat of a personal epiphany. After that client’s shoot, I was hooked. It was not because of anything I’d seen somewhere else, but about how it made me feel when I was shooting.

Phoblographer: We’ve spoken about your creative methods on Inside the Photographer’s Mind before where you’ve explained that you’re very much a director during your dance shoots. So when shooting with film, how did that change? What was your keeper rate?

Omar: In general, the process has stayed the same. If anything, I am more meticulous and choosy about what I will shoot. I am enjoying the process of restraining myself from shooting endlessly. If I don’t like what I see, I don’t press the shutter. Also, I don’t ask to repeat the poses more than three times for example. I move on, and it’s quite liberating. I’d say the keeper rate is about the same or a little higher perhaps because I am being way more intentional about what I shoot.

“To be 100% honest, I’ve personally been avoiding film for a long time. Mainly because it has become a trend and I usually try to stay away from trends. But I went for essentially it because of my client’s request.”

Phoblographer: What’s it like for you to shoot an image, and then have to wait and talk to your dancers about them also needing to be patient with the delivery of the photos?

Omar: I am also enjoying the wait. Personally, I’ve grown weary of all the immediacy nowadays. Having everything at your hands instantly can make you become lazy and complacent. I think it can potentially develop more anxiety from having everything at the moment. Once we have it, we already want more and that causes a cycle. Where as waiting makes us develop patience and tolerance. If you have to work for it longer, you enjoy and value the end result more. The dancers have also had to adapt to the process, they can’t see the images right away. I some cases that also created a lot of anxiety for them because they’d try to keep perfecting the poses and repeating them. Now, since they can’t see them, we just move along and keep working on other things. I’ve also found they become more excited about the images because of the mystery and anticipation.

Phoblographer: Do you feel like shooting film made you a better digital photographer? How so?

Omar: Perhaps, but what I can tell you is that it has definitely boosted my confidence in my work. Digital makes everything so easy, from getting the exposure right to autofocus, everything is ready at the push of a button. So much so that we hardly have to think about this things anymore, they just happen for us. And it keeps getting more and more efficient, we are soon talking about AI in digital cameras. However, when you have to focus and expose manually, at some point you start trusting your instincts and decisions. When you get that roll back and scan it and you see that things came out alright, you stop second guessing yourself. You realize it’s not about the equipment anymore, but its about you. You are the creator you have the power of making things right.

Phoblographer: What was the hardest part of all this for you?

Omar: Mostly focusing. I’m still trying to shoot wide open for the most part. I have to be very careful. But so far, so good. And if I miss, I’ll get it right the next time.

“The dancers have also had to adapt to the process, they can’t see the images right away. I some cases that also created a lot of anxiety for them because they’d try to keep perfecting the poses and repeating them. Now, since they can’t see them, we just move along and keep working on other things. I’ve also found they become more excited about the images because of the mystery and anticipation.”

Phoblographer: What film and camera did you use?

Omar:  I’d rather not say, the whole purpose about this write up is to help us understand that the equipment is completely irrelevant. People nowadays think almost like a tribe about equipment and gear. But in the end they’re just tools to carry your vision. You should use the tools that work for you. What works for me is not going to work necessarily for someone else. Yet, folks get too hung up on trying to emulate other photographers from their style to their equipment. That has created is an army of clones where no-one has their own voice anymore. Each and every one of us should have to go through the motions of discovering what will make you, you. Only then your work will really stand out.